Last Friday, I participated in a study for my introductory psychology class that asked me questions about what stresses me out and why. I thought about things that most college students tend to worry about: grades, money, making their parents proud, mental health, physical health, etc.

Six hours later, my iPhone sent me a series of New York Times notifications. A soccer stadium in France had been bombed, a theater and a restaurant had been brutally attacked. Upward of 100 were dead. “Did you hear about Paris?”

Everyone was asking each other. I felt powerless. So much evil was happening and I was eating pasta at a restaurant in downtown Ann Arbor. I felt conflicted: I wanted to sit at home, watch the news, feel sad and existential about the meaning of humanity. Should I try to just go on with my Friday night? 

My little brother called me in a panic that night, and I thought maybe he was upset or scared. He was both of those things, but that’s because he feared he may have accidentally fed my dog some chocolate. It turns out the dog is totally fine; he just had a bellyache.  

Being a human can be confusing. Having emotions can be confusing. As I sit down to write this article, two days after the attacks on Paris, my phone sends me another New York Times notification: “France is conducting major airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Syria.”

Yet the forefront of my mind has returned to the issues I thought of for my psych study. I worry about getting another migraine, a health issue that has been plaguing my sophomore year. I worry about the essay I have due Tuesday. I worry about finishing the six required community service hours for my professional fraternity.

Does this make me selfish? Or does this just make me human?

Sitting on the couch and feeling sad and powerless doesn’t accomplish anything. I can make my profile picture the colors of a French flag and I can post #PrayForParis, but what can I really do to truly help?

It’s strange, this feeling of powerlessness. The reality is that we’re so far from what’s happening, but technology allows us to know exactly what is being done each moment. The only way the world will continue to function is if I continue to write this article, even though it does nothing to improve the situation in France. The only way we as humans can continue to survive in times of tragedy is to continue to live our daily lives. 

Coming from New York City, I grew up hearing the phrase, “Where were you on 9/11? What do you remember?” And I know that one day people will ask Parisiens where they were and what they were doing on ‘13 Novembre 2015.’

As we mourn the loss of innocent lives, we look toward our future and must try to be the best humans we can be. There’s nothing we can do to change the past, but we have to move forward. It’s hard to be powerless in a situation of such horror. Instead of feeling guilty for my inability to help the French, I push forward with my comrades and worry about what every American college student does.

Alison Schalop can be reached at aschalop@umich.edu.

 

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